A (not) very British concert etiquette…

As it turns out, even Gillian Moore, the head of music at the Southbank Centre, is a victim of elitism in classical music. Last week, she wrote a piece for Sinfini Music about some recent experiences she has had in the concert hall, noting a moment when a fellow audience member rebuked her for moving while the music was playing. The scolder even went so far as to advise her to ‘stay at home next time’, because she clearly didn’t know how to ‘behave in concerts’.

The account is startling, not least because of who was involved; one of the most influential and respected figures in classical music got told off, like an errant schoolgirl, for misbehaving. Understandably, she and her companion felt upset and humiliated from the experience. The worst of it is this wasn’t an isolated incident; similar things have happened to her numerous times.


In the last three months, I have also been made to feel uncomfortable and out of place in the last two out of four ‘traditional’ classical concerts I’ve been to. The first happened at the BBC Proms. A man two rows behind my friend and I told us to ‘sit down, for goodness sake. It’s not finished’ as the audience was clapping after the final movement of a concerto in the first half (the concerto, by the way, was the final piece in the programme, but my friend and I didn’t know that this would normally be a time for an encore so we stood up ready to go and get some fresh air). After being put in our place, we quickly sat back down again for the encore, with our tails between our legs.

My biggest regret about the whole saga was that I chose not to stand up for myself. Like Gillian, I am a seasoned concert-goer and I will always go to another concert because, well, that’s just what I enjoy doing. But if it was my first time, I’m inclined to think my reaction would have been very different. I just wish I sucked up my British fear of confrontation and let my reprimander know that there is more than one way to behave in a concert hall.

There are plenty of initiatives in place within the sector to tackle the stuffy and inaccessible perception of classical music. Concert series like the OAE NightShift and City of London Sinfonia’s CLoSer break down the barriers and rules that you would traditionally be subject to in a concert hall: silence; dress codes; applause at specified moments and (my pet hate) programme notes that resemble PhD theses. Schemes have also been created to enable young people to access cheap tickets, guides written to make outsiders more comfortable, and cross-cultural programmes introduced as a way to entice new-comers to the art. There are certainly signs that, from the industry side, the elitist problem has been identified and is beginning to be tackled. Long-standing conservative conventions are being challenged, outsiders are being welcomed and barriers are being broken. But where does the audience fit in to this? If new-comers are still being rebuffed for ‘inappropriate behaviour’, it seems they still have a long way to go…

And so it seems to me that the problem of elitism in classical music no longer lies with the industry; the professionals are making the changes necessary and now it is the audience that needs to be brought up to speed. And so, in this vein, here is my (not) very British concert etiquette to push those reprimanding audience members in the right direction:

  1. Enjoy the music, the sights, the atmosphere, the experience. That’s what you’re there to do.
  2. Be considerate of those around you, just as you would at at the cinema or theatre
  3. Remember that you have as much right as anyone else to be there. Stand up for yourself if someone else thinks differently.



Cyborgs, Spotify and online identities

There has been a lot of coverage recently about Spotify, namely the (apparently embarrassing) leaks of famous music critics’ playlists and the revelation that the music giant is intending to gain access to its users photos, data and otherwise. It made me think about the relationship between music and social media…

On Facebook and Twitter, users control what they want their friends and followers to see. This extends from your personal privacy settings to the very concept of these channels themselves. Users might choose not to share the porridge they had for breakfast on a Monday morning, for example, but boast very publicly about the yummy full English they had for Saturday brunch. Facebook doesn’t automatically know that you are eating porridge and share that information with your followers … a human being, either you or a friend perhaps, would have to actively publish that information. There is a difference between your real self and your online self (for the mean time anyway…), and that’s the way it should be.

Spotify, on the other hand, knows, withholds and can publish your whole musical identity. Music, for me anyway, is a very private thing and this thought does unnerve me a little. I do not like the thought that Spotify lets my friends, colleagues and acquaintances know what I like to listen to on my Monday morning commute to work, without my permission. I don’t mind actively telling people what I listen to, in the same way that I might tweet about my delicious Saturday brunch, but that is my choice.


I suppose the difference lies in the fact that Spotify is first a live streaming service; a private means of me accessing music. Facebook and Twitter, on the other hand, are billboards for my social persona and that is the way they have always been. Recently Spotify has allowed itself, without its users consent, to evolve into this social network and I’m not sure I’m happy about it. Just because I have grown to accept that photos taken of me and events that I attend are public in the social network era, doesn’t mean I should accept everything should be like this too.

This all might be slightly trivial; the Spotify cyborg doesn’t really impact my life and I know there are ways around it. For one, Spotify has some pretty thorough privacy settings and; to be honest; I could just buy my music in the way of CDs and iTunes and avoid this altogether. But the media fallout did make me think about the impact live streaming has on my online persona. For me, the music I enjoy occupies a separate and personal space from my online social presence and I don’t like the thought of that being jeopardised, in the way that I feel it was with the leaked playlists of the Wire music critic.

What do you think?